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Research Says Money Can Lead to Greed. (Duh.)

July 28, 2011

I once came across this shocking headline: “Cutting Calories Leads to Weight Loss.”

A well-funded publicity campaign propelled this revolutionary news story to the forefront of major newspapers, websites, and network news programs.

Well, Duh!  Do we really need a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine to tell us that we’ll lose weight if we eat less?

So, I was not at all surprised when another sensationalistic headline came across my desk that said, “Money Can Make You Greedy.” The link took me straight to an article in New Scientist magazine, called “Why Money Messes With Your Mind.”

I, for one, am not ashamed to admit that I am ambitious. But for me, money has always been about its practical use more than anything else. It sure does come in handy. It pays for our homes, puts food on the table, and clothes on our backs. Not to mention all that make-up required by my two teen-age daughters. It also pays for our church staff, important missions and service work. Money can do a lot of good.

But there is another side – a side that leads to plenty of selfish, unethical and downright sleazy behavior. Look no further than the headlines, which somehow continually dredge up a never-ending stream of financial indescretions.

Currency is simply a tool to help us make more efficient and functional transactions in our society. So why does money have such a nasty effect on peoples’ thinking, driving them to do stupid things?

The New Scientist article asks this same question, but from a neuropsychological angle. The article reviews a slew of research that looks at the effect of money on your brain. And, guess what? It turns out that money really does mess with our thinking.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Simply thinking about words associated with money can make us more self-reliant and less inclined to help others.
  • The very act of handling cash can diminish physical pain and social rejection.
  • Money affects some brains the same way drugs affect addicts.
  • Subjects who heard words associated with commerce were slower to ask for help

Hmm. Why does this all sound so familiar? Oh yes, I remember. I once read about something like this in an ancient manuscript called, THE BIBLE?

Jesus knew all about this problem 2,000 years ago when he gave that famous talk about the camel going through the eye of a needle. It is harder for a rich man to get into heaven, he said (followed immediately, by the way, with “But with God, all things are possible!”).

And Paul wrote one of the most misquoted scripture verses of all time in I Timothy 6:10, which says,

 “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with all kinds of grief.”

All throughout the New Testament are references to the dangers of the love of money, not money itself.  They might as well have written about the love of food, or sex, or the insatiable desire to see a new comment posted on your Blog every five minutes.

Our brains have this needy little hot spot baked right in there that is constantly yelling at us from the sidelines, like a screeching monkey. “No, don’t stop! We need more! Hey Loser, Over here! More of that! I’m not filled yet! You are such a stupid Loser! Gimme some of that! We need more! More! More!”

I think the screeching monkey is the root of all evil. Not the money.

Awesome/scary/screaming photo thx to Nance, used with permish.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2011 4:02 pm

    Ah…so would “Go calm your screeching monkey” be a good rebuke?


  2. July 28, 2011 5:04 pm

    Very good analysis! This is a fascinating subject, thanks for sharing.

    I love your metaphor of the screeching monkey yelling “More, More”: whatever gives pleasure can be addictive and impact greatly our behavior and thinking process. If a rat has the choice between stimulating the brain or eating, it will choose stimulation to the point of exhaustion! (

    Latest studies in neurosciences about addictions to cocaine or alcohol demonstrate that changes in the amount of certain neuro-chemicals in the pleasure center make the brain’s mechanisms unable to regulate themselves on the long term, creating permanent brain damages!

    So you are right, for certain people, money activates the same pleasure center in the brain than cocaine does and therefore change their behaviors dramatically. The more they earn the greedier they become and will lose interest and compassion for others. Money is not bad or good by itself.

  3. July 28, 2011 6:33 pm

    This is so interesting, Brad, and opens some new treatment opportunities for my patients who live with pain (I’m imagining Scrooge McDuck’s money bin–remember how he used to swim in it?). Your opening reminds me of a friend who recently lost a lot of weight. How did you do it? I asked. I just ate less, she said.

    I hate when that works.

  4. July 29, 2011 7:58 am

    It’s such a multi-faceted issue. The love of money can really be a love of security and a lack of a trust in Christ. It can be a love of pleasure and leisure. For me, the love of money is often more about a scorecard than anything, so the love of money can be a love of self and self-accomplishment.
    Money has no moral component, good or bad, but it does a really good job at revealing our hearts.

    • July 30, 2011 10:25 am

      “The love of money can really be a love of security and a lack of a trust in Christ.”

      Dear Loren,

      How dare you make me say Ouch (translation: Oh, Me!)

      Signed, Michael aka STILL learning 2 serv.


  5. July 29, 2011 7:16 pm

    money is used as power in the world, and can blind a person from the ultimate power. it is a man made form of counting worth. it is very hard to avoid this thought. we can love something or someone because of money. we can hate, kill, and do all kinds of evil because of our thinking about it. a person can base decisions on money, think differently of themselves because of money. the power that man has given to money is something that usually is not prone to do good things to the mind and heart.

    humans are easily taken by the worldly power of the man made god of money. none of us are immune to greed. greed is like the worship at the throne of money. people bow before the golden statue and it blinds them from the power of God. do not worship anything except God. do not bow before it, do not give your life to it, do not evaluate worth by it.

    with God, all things are possible. all things… now just what is this…all things?
    all things of worth in the eyes of God.

  6. July 30, 2011 7:52 am

    You’ve heard it said that “The love of money is the root of all evil”, but I say unto you, “The love of evil is the root of all money!”

  7. August 1, 2011 8:08 am

    This post reminded me of the exchange about money between George Bailey and Clarence, his guardian angel. When Clarence says he doesn’t need money in heaven, George responds, “Well it comes in pretty handy down here, bub.” A friend of mine who is involved with developing financial support for a ministry organization is very thankful for those who are ambitious and earn lots of the stuff–especially when they are given to generosity. My husband often says that money is just an idea, represented by gold bricks and paper and coins. The screeching monkey can distort any and all of our ideas–out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks–and makes suggestions to our inner screeching monkey.

  8. August 2, 2011 1:58 pm

    Research of the brain always interests me. I wonder what effect handling money has on kids? Probably same as adults.

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